ARE, Sweden – One of the hallmarks of Lindsey Vonn’s career has been the way she bounces back from major crashes time and time again.
So perhaps it’s fitting that the most successful female skier of all time will enter her last race before retiring following yet another tumble into the safety netting.
Vonn straddled a gate mid-air during the super-G at the world championships Tuesday and ended up sliding down the hill face first.
“I’ve got a bit of a shiner. I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler, but other than that I’m great,” Vonn said with a laugh. “My knees are the same as they were before the race. I think my neck’s going to be sore. I got the wind knocked out of me, my ribs are oddly sore. It’ll be fine. Sunday will be great.”
Vonn quickly got up after the fall and skied down the hill under her own power after being tended to by medical personnel. Then she sat and happily answered reporters’ questions during a half-hour news conference.
The 34-year-old Vonn, the all-time leader in women’s World Cup wins, announced last week that she will retire after racing the super-G and downhill at the worlds – meaning that Sunday’s downhill is her final race.
“Don’t count me out,” Vonn said. “I’ve got one more chance. Maybe I’ll pull off a miracle, maybe I won’t. … I’m going to try my hardest. Just because I get knocked down, it doesn’t mean I don’t get back up.”
Vonn’s long history of crashes has included frightful falls at the 2006 Turin Olympics and 2013 worlds and injuries to virtually every part of her body – from a concussion to a sliced thumb to a bruised shin. But she has always bounced back by winning titles and medals.
“That’s defined her career and that’s why she is as successful as she has been,” U.S. head coach Paul Kristofic said. “You have to respect that. That’s a true competitor and champion and that’s their mindset.”
Vonn’s legs are so battered that she will have knee surgery for the seventh time soon after she retires – to repair the left knee ligament she tore during training in November.
“I need complete reconstruction. That will be fun. Hopefully my last surgery,” Vonn said.
Vonn was planning on retiring in December but moved up her last race upon realizing last month after failing to finish a super-G in Italy that her knees just can’t handle anymore pounding. She has discussed the long-term health risks for her body with her doctors.
“I’m screwed. I’ve known that for three years now,” Vonn said. “It’s only a matter of time. The analogy I was given was, I only have a certain amount of steps left. And I’ve run out of steps at this point. I know I’ll have pain for the rest of my life but I wouldn’t change it. … I got no cartilage, no meniscus, I got rods and plates and screws. There’s a lot going on. My head is still good, that’s all I need.”
It didn’t take Vonn long to process on why she crashed. When she barreled through a gate, the panel fitted between the two poles detached and got stuck on her boots. When she hit the ground she slid downhill face first, using her hands to keep her head from hitting the snow, then came to a stop in the netting.
“I had the right line coming in, that roll or jump had kind of a crown, it wasn’t exactly smooth and I think one of my skis hooked up and sent me into the panel,” she said. “The header into the fence wasn’t the best.
“My immediate thought was `What the hell? Why am I in the fence again?’ It was like, `Why am I here? I’m too old for this.“’
On Twitter, she added: “If adversity makes you stronger I think I’m the Hulk at this point….”
Fernando Maddock, a 43-year-old fan from New York who traveled overseas to attend the championships, said watching Vonn crash was “heartbreaking.
“A champion like her deserves to go out in style,” Maddock added. “She gets motivated by injury. She comes back stronger every time. It’s amazing. We’ll be here for the downhill, cheering her on.”
Vonn was wearing a safety air bag device under her racing suit, which inflated as she tumbled over and softened the impact when she hit the safety nets.
On a highly technical course, many other skiers also failed to finish their runs. American teammate Laurenne Ross also crashed and of the 43 starters, 14 failed to finish.
Mikaela Shiffrin won the race despite nearly making a similar error to Vonn toward the end of her run, correcting her direction in mid-air as she, too, was heading directly into a gate.
“I just squeaked by,” the American said. “That’s the sport. It’s such a fine line between the risk you have to take in order to win and then the risk where you take it’s just a little bit too much.”
Upon seeing Vonn’s crash, Shiffrin looked away from the big video screen in the finish area. Sofia Goggia, who took silver, clasped her helmet with both hands, and the crowd gasped. One American fan appeared to be crying.
“That’s Lindsey. She (goes) 100 percent or nothing,” said Austrian racer Nicole Schmidhofer, who finished 11th. “That’s why she has won so many races and why she’s an Olympic champion.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.
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